Yama (the Pit) by Alexander Kuprin

Russian LiteratureChildren BooksRussian PoetryAlexander Kuprin – Yama (the Pit) – Contents

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Part III

Chapter III

It was still early—about nine—of a rainy August evening. The illuminated drawing room in the house of Anna Markovna was almost empty. Only near the very doors a young telegraph clerk was sitting, his legs shyly and awkwardly squeezed under his chair, and was trying to start with the thick-fleshed Katie that worldly, unconstrained conversation which is laid down as the proper thing in polite society at quadrille, during the intermissions between the figures of the dance. And, also, the long-legged, aged Roly-Poly wandered over the room, sitting down now next one girl, now another, and entertaining them all with his fluent chatter.

When Kolya Gladishev walked into the front hall, the first to recognize him was the round-eyed Verka, dressed in her usual jockey costume. She began to twirl round and round, to clap her palms, and called out:

“Jennka, Jennka, come quicker, your little lover has come to you … The little cadet … And what a handsome little fellow!”

But Jennka was not in the drawing room at this time; a stout head-conductor had already managed to get hold of her.

This elderly, sedate, and majestic man was a very convenient guest, because he never lingered in the house for more than twenty minutes, fearing to let his train go by; and, even so, glanced at his watch all the while. During this time he regularly drank down four bottles of beer, and, going away, infallibly gave the girl half a rouble for candy and Simeon twenty kopecks for drink-money.

Kolya Gladishev was not alone, but with a comrade of the same school, Petrov, who was stepping over the threshold of a brothel for the first time, having given in to the tempting persuasions of Gladishev. Probably, during these minutes, he found himself in the same wild, absurd, feverish state which Kolya himself had gone through a year and a half ago, when his legs had shook, his mouth had grown dry, and the lights of the lamps had danced before him in revolving wheels.

Simeon took their great-coats from them and hid them separately, on the side, that the shoulder straps and the buttons might not be seen.

It must be said, that this stern man, who did not approve of students because of their free-and-easy facetiousness and incomprehensible style in conversation, also did not like when just such boys in uniform appeared in the establishment.

“Well, what’s the good of it?” he would at times say sombrely to his colleagues by profession. “What if a whippersnapper like that comes, and runs right up nose to nose against his superiors? Smash, and they’ve closed up the establishment! There, like Lupendikha’s three years back. Of course, it’s nothing that they closed it up—she transferred it in another name right off; and when they sentenced her to sit in jail for a year and a half, why, it came to a pre-etty penny for her. She had to shell out four hundred for Kerbesh alone … And then it also happens: a little pig of that kind will cook up some sort of disease for himself and start in whining: ‘Oh, papa! Oh, mamma! I am dying!’ ‘Tell me, you skunk, where you got it?’ ‘There and there …’ Well, and so they haul you over the coals again; judge me, thou unrighteous judge!”

“Pass on, pass on,” said he to the cadets sternly.

The cadets entered, blinking from the bright light. Petrov, who had been drinking to get up courage, swayed and was pale. They sat down beneath the picture of the Feast of the Russian Noblemen, and immediately two of the young ladies—Verka and Tamara—joined them on both sides.

“Treat me to a smoke, you beautiful little brunet!” Verka turned to Petrov; and as though by accident put against his leg her strong, warm thigh, closely drawn over with white tights. “What an agreeable little fellow you are!”

“But where’s Jennie?” Gladishev asked of Tamara. “Is she busy with anybody?”

Tamara looked him in the eyes intently—looked so fixedly, that the boy even began to feel uncomfortable, and turned away.

“No. Why should she be busy? Only the whole day to-day her head ached; she was walking through the corridor, and at that time the housekeeper opened the door quickly and accidentally struck her in the forehead—and so her head started in to ache. The poor thing, she’s lying the whole day with a cold pack. But why? Or can’t you hold out? Wait a while, she’ll come out in five minutes. You’ll remain very much satisfied with her.”

Verka pestered Petrov:

“Sweetie, dearie, what a tootsie-wootsicums you are! I adore such pale brunets; they are jealous and very fiery in love.”

And suddenly she started singing in a low voice:

“He’s kind of brown,
My light, my own,
Won’t sell me out, and won’t deceive.
He suffers madly,
Pants and coat gladly
All for a woman he will give.”

“How do they call you, ducky dear?”

“George,” answered Petrov in a hoarse, cadet’s bass.

“Jorjik Jorochka! Ah, how very nice!”

She suddenly drew near to his ear and whispered with a cunning face:

“Jorochka, come to me.”

Petrov was abashed and forlornly let out in a bass:

“I don’t know … It all depends on what the comrade says, now…”

Verka burst into loud laughter:

“There’s a case for you! Say, what an infant it is! Such as you, Jorochka, in a little village would long since have been married; but he says: ‘It all depends on the comrade!’ You ought to ask a nurse or a wet nurse yet! Tamara, my angel, just imagine: I’m calling him to go sleeping, but he says: ‘It all depends on the comrade.’ What about you, mister friend, are you his bringer up?”

“Don’t be pestering, you devil!” clumsily, altogether like a cadet before a quarrel, grumbled out Petrov in a bass.

The lanky, ricketty Roly-Poly, grown still grayer, walked up to the cadets, and, inclining his long, narrow head to one side, and having made a touching grimace, began to patter:

“Messieurs cadets, highly educated young people; the flower, so to speak, of the intelligentzia; future masters of ordnance, will you not lend to a little old man, an aborigine of these herbiferous regions, one good old cigarette? I be poor. Omnia mea mecum porto. But I do adore the weed.”

And, having received a cigarette, suddenly, without delay, he got into a free-and-easy, unconstrained pose; put forward the bent right leg, put his hand to his side, and began to sing in a wizened falsetto:

“It used to be that I gave dinners,
In rivers flowed the champagne wine;
But now I have not even bread crusts,
Nor for a split, oh brother mine.

It used to be—in the Saratov
The doorman rushed, and was so fine;
But now all drive me in the neck,
Give for a split, oh brother mine.”

“Gentlemen!” suddenly exclaimed Roly-Poly with pathos, cutting short his singing and smiting himself on the chest. “Here I behold you, and know that you are the future generals Skobelev and Gurko; but I, too, in a certain respect, am a military hound. In my time, when I was studying for a forest ranger, all our department of woods and forests was military; and for that reason, knocking at the diamond-studded, golden doors of your hearts, I beg of you—donate toward the raising for an ensign of taxation of a wee measure of spiritus vini, which same is taken of the monks also.”

“Roly!” cried the stout Kitty from the other end, “show the young officers the lightning; or else, look you, you’re taking the money only for nothing, you good-for-nothing camel.”

“Right away!” merrily responded Roly-Poly. “Most illustrious benefactors, turn your attention this way. Living Pictures. Thunder Storm on a Summer Day in June. The work of the unrecognized dramaturgist who concealed himself under the pseudonym of Roly-Poly. The first picture.

“‘It was a splendid day in June. The scorching rays of the sun illumined the blossoming meadows and environs …’”

Roly-Poly’s Don Quixotic phiz spread into a wrinkled, sweetish smile; and the eyes narrowed into half-circles.

“‘… But now in the distance the first clouds have appeared upon the horizon. They grew, piled upon each other like crags, covering little by little the blue vault of the sky.”

By degrees the smile was coming off Roly-Poly’s face, and it grew more and more serious and austere.

“‘At last the clouds have overcast the sun … An ominous darkness has fallen …’”

Roly-Poly made his physiognomy altogether ferocious.

“‘The first drops of the rain fell …’”

Roly-Poly began to drum his fingers on the back of a chair.

“‘… In the distance flashed the first lightning … ‘”

Roly-Poly’s eye winked quickly, and the left corner of his mouth gave a twitch.

“‘… Whereupon the rain began to pour down in torrents, and there came a sudden, blinding flash of lightning…’”

And with unusual artistry and rapidity Roly-Poly, with a successive movement of his eyebrows, eyes, nose, the upper and the lower lip, portrayed a lightning zig-zag.

“‘… A jarring thunder clap burst out—trrroo-oo. An oak that had stood through the ages fell down to earth, as though it were a frail reed …’”

And Roly-Poly with an ease and daring not to be expected from one of his years, bending neither the knees nor the back, only drawing down his head, instantaneously fell down; straight, like a statue, with his back to the floor, but at once deftly sprang up on his feet.

“‘But now the thunder storm is gradually abating. The lightning flashes less and less often. The thunder sounds duller, just like a satiated beast—oooooo-oooooo … The clouds scurry away. The first rays of the blessed sun have peeped out …’”

Roly-Poly made a wry smile.

“‘… And now, the luminary of day has at last begun to shine anew over the bathed earth …’”

And the silliest of beatific smiles spread anew over the senile face of Roly-Poly.

The cadets gave him a twenty-kopeck piece each. He laid them on his palm, made a pass in the air with the other hand, said: ein, zwei, drei, snapped two of his fingers, and the coins vanished.

“Tamarochka, this isn’t honest,” he said reproachfully. “Aren’t you ashamed to take the last money from a poor retired almost-head-officer? Why have you hidden them here?”

And, having snapped his fingers again, he drew the coins out of Tamara’s ear.

“I shall return at once, don’t be bored without me,” he reassured the young people; “but if you can’t wait for me, then I won’t have any special pretensions about it. I have the honour! …”

“Roly-Poly!” Little White Manka cried after him, “Won’t you buy me candy for fifteen kopecks… Turkish Delight, fifteen kopecks’ worth. There, grab!”

Roly-Poly neatly caught in its flight the thrown fifteen-kopeck piece; made a comical curtsey and, pulling down the uniform cap with the green edging at a slant over his eyes, vanished.

The tall, old Henrietta walked up to the cadets, also asked for a smoke and, having yawned, said:

“If only you young people would dance a bit—for as it is the young ladies sit and sit, just croaking from weariness.”

“If you please, if you please!” agreed Kolya. “Play a waltz and something else of the sort.”

The musicians began to play. The girls started to whirl around with one another, ceremoniously as usual, with stiffened backs and with eyes modestly cast down.

Kolya Gladishev, who was very fond of dancing, could not hold out and invited Tamara; he knew even from the previous winter that she danced more lightly and skillfully than the rest. While he was twirling in the waltz, the stout head-conductor, skillfully making his way between the couples, slipped away unperceived through the drawing room. Kolya did not have a chance to notice him.

No matter how Verka pressed Petrov, she could not, in any way, drag him off his place. The recent light intoxication had by now gone entirely out of his head; and more and more horrible, and unrealizable, and monstrous did that for which he had come here seem to him. He might have gone away, saying that not a one here pleased him; have put the blame on a headache, or something; but he knew that Gladishev would not let him go; and mainly—it seemed unbearably hard to get up from his place and to walk a few steps by himself. And, besides that, he felt that he had not the strength to start talking of this with Kolya.

They finished dancing. Tamara and Gladishev again sat down side by side.

“Well, really, how is it that Jennechka isn’t coming by now?” asked Kolya impatiently.

Tamara quickly gave Verka a look with a question, incomprehensible to the uninitiated, in her eyes. Verka quickly lowered her eyelashes. This signified: yes, he is gone.

“I’ll go right away and call her,” said Tamara.

“But what are you so stuck on your Jennka for,” said Henrietta. “You might take me.”

“All right, another time,” answered Kolya and nervously began to smoke.

Jennka was not even beginning to dress yet. She was sitting before the mirror and powdering her face.

“What is it, Tamarochka?” she asked.

“Your little cadet has come to you. He’s waiting.”

“Ah, that’s the little baby of last year… Well, the devil with him!”

“And that’s right, too. But how healthy and handsome the lad has grown, and how tall… It’s a delight, that’s all! So if you don’t want to, I’ll go myself.”

Tamara saw in the mirror how Jennka contracted her eyebrows.

“No, you wait a while, Tamara, don’t. I’ll see. Send him here to me. Say that I’m not well, that my head aches.”

“I have already told him, anyway, that Zociya had opened the door unsuccessfully and hit you on the head; and that you’re lying down with a cold pack. But the only thing is, is it worth while, Jennechka?”

“Whether it’s worth while or not, that’s not your business, Tamara,” answered Jennka rudely.

Tamara asked cautiously:

“Is it possible, then, that you aren’t at all, at all sorry?”

“But for me you aren’t sorry?” and she passed her hand over the red stripe that slashed her throat. “And for yourself you aren’t sorry? And not sorry for this Liubka, miserable as she is? And not sorry for Pashka? You’re huckleberry jelly, and not a human being!”

Tamara smiled craftily and haughtily:

“No, when it comes to a real matter, I’m not jelly. Perhaps you’ll see this soon, Jennechka. Only let’s better not quarrel—as it is it isn’t any too sweet to live. All right, I’ll go at once and send him to you.”

When she had gone away, Jennka lowered the light in the little hanging blue lantern, put on her night blouse, and lay down. A minute later Gladishev walked in; and after him Tamara, dragging Petrov by the hand, who resisted and kept his head down. And in the rear was thrust in the pink, sharp, foxy little phiz of the cross-eyed housekeeper Zociya.

“And that’s fine, now,” the housekeeper commenced to bustle. “It’s just sweet to look at; two handsome gents and two swell dames. A regular bouquet. What shall I treat you with, young people? Will you order beer or wine?”

Gladishev had a great deal of money in his pocket, as much as he never had before during all his brief life—all of twenty-five roubles; and he wanted to go on a splurge. Beer he drank only out of bravado, but could not bear its bitter taste, and wondered himself how others could ever drink it. And for that reason, squeamishly, like an old rake, sticking out his lower lip, he said mistrustfully:

“But then, you surely must have some awful stuff?”

“What do you mean, what do you mean, good-looking! The very best gentlemen approve of it. Of the sweet, there are Cagore, church wine, Teneriffe; while of the French there’s Lafitte. You can get port wine also. The girls just simply adore Lafitte with lemonade.”

“And what are the prices?”

“No dearer than money. As is the rule in all good establishments—a bottle of Lafitte five roubles, four bottles of lemonade at a half each, that’s two roubles, and only seven in all…”

“That’ll do you, Zociya,” Jennka stopped her indifferently, “it’s a shame to take advantage of boys. Even five is enough. You can see these are decent people, and not just anybody…”

But Gladishev turned red, and with a negligent air threw a ten rouble note on the table.

“Oh, what’s the use of talking about it. All right, bring it.”

“Whilst I’m at it, I’ll take the money for the visit as well. What about you, young people—are you on time or for the night? You know the rates yourself: on time, at two roubles; for the night, at five.”

“All right, all right. On time,” interrupted Jennka, flaring up. “Trust us in that, at least.”

The wine was brought. Tamara through importunity got pastry, besides. Jennka asked for permission to call in Little White Manka. Jennka herself did not drink, did not get up from the bed, and all the time muffled herself up in a gray shawl of Orenburg[24] manufacture, although it was hot in the room. She looked fixedly, without tearing her eyes away, at the handsome, sunburned face of Gladishev, which had become so manly.

[24] Orenburg has as high a reputation for woolens as Sheffield has for steel.—Trans.

“What’s the matter with you, dearie?” asked Gladishev, sitting down on her bed and stroking her hand.

“Nothing special… Head aches a little… I hit myself.”

“Well, don’t you pay any attention.”

“Well, here I’ve seen you, and already I feel better. How is it you haven’t been here for so long?”

“I couldn’t snatch away the time, nohow-camping. You know yourself… We had to put away twenty-five versts a day. The whole day drilling and drilling: field, formation, garrison. With a full pack. Used to get so fagged out from morning to night that towards evening you couldn’t feel your legs under you… We were at the manoeuvres also… It isn’t sweet…”

“Oh, you poor little things!” Little White Manka suddenly clasped her hands. “And what do they torture you for, angels that you are? If I was to have a brother like you, or a son—my heart would just simply bleed. Here’s to your health, little cadet!”

They clinked glasses. Jennka was just as attentively scrutinizing Gladishev.

“And you, Jennechka?” he asked, extending a glass.

“I don’t want to,” she answered listlessly, “but, however, ladies, you’ve drunk some wine, chatted a bit—don’t wear the welcome off the mat.”

“Perhaps you’ll stay with me the whole night?” she asked Gladishev, when the others had gone away. “Don’t you be afraid, dearie; if you won’t have enough money, I’ll pay the difference for you. You see, how good-looking you are, that a wench does not grudge even money for you?” she began laughing.

Gladishev turned around to her; even his unobserving ear was struck by Jennka’s strange tone—neither sad, nor kindly, nor yet mocking.

“No, sweetie, I’d be very glad to; I’d like to remain myself, but I can’t possibly; I promised to be home toward ten o’clock.”

“That’s nothing, dear, they’ll wait; you’re altogether a grown-up man now. Is it possible that you have to listen to anybody? … But, however, as you wish. Shall I put out the light entirely, perhaps; or is it all right the way it is? Which do you want—the outside or near the wall?”

“It’s immaterial to me,” he answered in a quavering voice; and, having embraced with his arm the hot, dry body of Jennka, he stretched with his lips toward her face. She slightly repulsed him.

“Wait, bear a while, sweetheart—we have time enough to kiss our fill yet. Just lie still for one little minute… So, now… quiet, peaceful… don’t stir…”

These words, passionate and imperious, acted like hypnosis upon Gladishev. He submitted to her and lay down on his back, putting his hands underneath his head. She raised herself a little, leant upon her elbow, and placing her head upon the bent hand, silently, in the faint half-light, was looking his body over—so white, strong, muscular; with a high and broad pectoral cavity; with well-made ribs; with a narrow pelvis; and with mighty, bulging thighs. The dark tan of the face and the upper half of the neck was divided by a sharp line from the whiteness of the shoulders and breast.

Gladishev blinked for a second. It seemed to him that he was feeling upon himself, upon his face, upon his entire body, this intensely fixed gaze, which seemed to touch his face and tickle it, like the cobwebby contact of a comb, which you first rub against a cloth—the sensation of a thin, imponderous, living matter.

He opened his eyes and saw altogether near him the large, dark, uncanny eyes of the woman, who seemed to him now an entire stranger.

“What are you looking at, Jennie?” he asked quietly. “What are you thinking of?”

“My dear little boy! …They call you Kolya: isn’t that so?”


“Don’t be angry at me, carry out a certain caprice of mine, please: shut your eyes again… no, even tighter, tighter… I want to turn up the light and have a good look at you. There now, so… If you only knew how beautiful you are now… right now… this second. Later you will become coarse, and you will begin giving off a goatish smell; but now you give off an odour of fur and milk… and a little of some wild flower. But shut them—shut your eyes!”

She added light, returned to her place, and sat down in her favourite pose—Turkish fashion. Both kept silent. In the distance, several rooms away, a broken-down grand piano was tinkling; somebody’s vibrating laughter floated in; while from the other side—a little song, and rapid, merry talking. The words could not be heard. A cabby was rumbling by somewhere through the distant street…

“And now I will infect him right away, just like all the others,” pondered Jennka, gliding with a deep gaze over his well-made legs, his handsome torso of a future athlete, and over his arms, thrown back, upon which, above the bend of the elbow, the muscles tautened—bulging, firm. “Why, then, am I so sorry for him? Or is it because he is such a good-looking little fellow? No. I am long since a stranger to such feelings. Or is it because he is a boy? Why, only a little over a year ago I shoved apples in his pocket, when he was going away from me at night. Why have I not told him then that which, I can, and dare, tell him now? Or would he not have believed me, anyway? Would have grown angry? Would have gone to another? For sooner or later this turn awaits every man… And that he bought me for money—can that be forgiven? Or did he act just as all of them do—blindly? …”

“Kolya!” she said quietly, “Open your eyes.”

He obeyed, opened his eyes, turned to her; entwined her neck with his arm, drew her a little to him, and wanted to kiss her in the opening of her chemise—on the breast. She again tenderly but commandingly repulsed him.

“No, wait a while, wait a while—hear me out… one little minute more. Tell me, boy, why do you come here to us—to the women?”

Kolya quietly and hoarsely began laughing.

“How silly you are! Well, what do they all come for? Am I not also a man? For, it seems, I’m at that age when in every man ripens… well, a certain need… for woman. For I’m not going to occupy myself with all sorts of nastiness!”

“Need? Only need? That means, just as for that chamber which stands under my bed?”

“No, why so?” retorted Kolya, with a kindly laugh. “I liked you very much… From the very first time… If you will, I’m even… a little in love with you… at least, I never stayed with any of the others.”

“Well, all right! But then, the first time, could it possibly have been need?”

“No, perhaps, it wasn’t need even; but somehow, vaguely, I wanted woman… My friends talked me into it… Many had already gone here before me… So then, I too…”

“But, now, weren’t you ashamed the first time?”

Kolya became confused; all this interrogation was to him unpleasant, oppressive. He felt, that this was not the empty, idle bed talk, so well known to him, out of his small experience; but something else, of more import.

“Let’s say… not that I was ashamed… well, but still I felt kind of awkward. I drank that time to get up courage.”

Jennie again lay down on her side; leaned upon her elbow, and again looked at him from time to time, near at hand and intently.

“But tell me, sweetie,” she asked, in a barely audible voice, so that the cadet with difficulty made out her words, “tell me one thing more; but the fact of your paying money, these filthy two roubles—do you understand?—paying them for love, so that I might caress, kiss you, give all my body to you—didn’t you feel ashamed to pay for that? Never?”

“Oh, my God! What strange questions you put to me to-day! But then they all pay money! Not I, then some one else would have paid—isn’t it all the same to you?”

“And have you been in love with any one, Kolya? Confess! Well, now, if not in real earnest, then just so… at soul… Have you done any courting? Brought little flowers of some sort… Strolled arm-in-arm with her under the moon? Wasn’t that so?”

“Well, yes,” said Koiya in a sedate bass. “What follies don’t happen in one’s youth! It’s a matter anyone can understand…”

“Some sort of a little first cousin? An educated young lady? A boarding school miss? A high school girl? … There has been, hasn’t there?”

“Well, yes, of course—everybody has them.”

“Why, you wouldn’t have touched her, would you? … You’d have spared her? Well, if she had only said to you: take me, but only give me two roubles—what would you have said to her?”

“I don’t understand you, Jennka!” Gladishev suddenly grew angry. “What are you putting on airs for! What sort of comedy are you trying to put over! Honest to God, I’ll dress myself at once and go away.”

“Wait a while, wait a while, Kolya! One more, one more, the last, the very, very last question.”

“Oh, you!” growled Kolya displeased.

“And could you never imagine… well, imagine it right now, even for a second… that your family has suddenly grown poor, become ruined. You’d have to earn your bread by copying papers; or, now, let’s say, through carpenter or blacksmith work; and your sister was to go wrong, like all of us… yes, yes, yours, your own sister… if some blockhead seduced her and she was to go travelling… from hand to hand… what would you say then?”

“Bosh! … That can’t be…” Kolya cut her short curtly. “But, however, that’s enough—I’m going away!”

“Go away, do me that favour! I’ve ten roubles lying there, near the mirror, in a little box from chocolates—take them for yourself. I don’t need them, anyway. Buy with them a tortoise powder box with a gold setting for your mamma; and if you have a little sister, buy her a good doll. Say: in memory from a certain wench that died. Go on, little boy!”

Kolya, with a frown, angry, with one shove of a well-knit body jumped off the bed, almost without touching it. Now he was standing on the little mat near the bed, naked, well-formed, splendid in all the magnificence of his blooming, youthful body.

“Kolya!” Jennka called him quietly, insistently and caressingly. “Kolechka!”

He turned around to her call, and drew in the air in a short, jerky gust, as though he had gasped: he had never yet in his life met anywhere, even in pictures, such a beautiful expression of tenderness, sorrow, and womanly silent reproach, as the one he was just now beholding in the eyes of Jennka, filled with tears. He sat down on the edge of the bed, and impulsively embraced her around the bared, swarthy arms.

“Let’s not quarrel, then, Jennechka,” he said tenderly.

And she twined herself around him, placed her arms on his neck, while her head she pressed against his breast. They kept silent so for several seconds.

“Kolya,” Jennie suddenly asked dully, “but were you never afraid of becoming infected?”

Kolya shivered. Some chill, loathsome horror stirred and glided through within his soul. He did not answer at once.

“Of course, that would be horrible… horrible… God save me! But then I go only to you alone, only to you! You’d surely have told me? …”

“Yes, I’d have told you,” she uttered meditatively. And at once rapidly, consciously, as though having weighed the significance of her words: “Yes, of course, of course, I would have told you! But haven’t you ever heard what sort of a thing is that disease called syphilis?”

“Of course, I’ve heard… The nose falls through…”

“No, Kolya, not only the nose! The person becomes all diseased: his bones, sinews, brains grow diseased… Some doctors say such nonsense as that it’s possible to be cured of this disease. Bosh! You’ll never cure yourself! A person rots ten, twenty, thirty years. Every second paralysis can strike him down, so that the right side of the face, the right arm, the right leg die—it isn’t a human being that’s living, but some sort of a little half. Half-man-half-corpse. The majority of them go out of their minds. And each understands… every person… each one so infected understands, that if he eats, drinks, kisses, simply even breathes—he can’t be sure that he won’t immediately infect some one of those around him, the very nearest—sister, wife, son… To all syphilitics the children are born monsters, abortions, goitrous, consumptives, idiots. There, Kolya, is what this disease means. And now,” Jennka suddenly straightened up quickly, seized Kolya fast by his bare shoulders, turned his face to her, so that he was almost blinded by the flashing of her sorrowful, sombre, extraordinary eyes, “and now, Kolya, I will tell you that for more than a month I am sick with this filth. And that’s just why I haven’t allowed you to kiss me…”

“You’re joking! … You’re teasing me on purpose, Jennie!” muttered Gladishev, wrathful, frightened, and out of his wits.

“Joking? …Come here!”

She abruptly compelled him to get up on his feet, lit a match and said:

“Now look closely at what I’m going to show you…”

She opened her mouth wide and placed the light so that it would illumine her larynx. Kolya looked and staggered back.

“Do you see these white spots? This is syphilis, Kolya! Do you understand?—syphilis in the most fearful, the most serious stage. Now dress yourself and thank God.”

He, silently and without looking around at Jennka, began to dress hurriedly, missing his clothes when he tried to put his legs through. His hands were shaking, and his under jaw jumped so that the lower teeth knocked against the upper; while Jennka was speaking with bowed head:

“Listen, Kolya, it’s your good fortune that you’ve run across an honest woman; another wouldn’t have spared you. Do you hear that? We, whom you deprive of innocence and then drive out of your home, while later you pay us two roubles a visit, we always—do you understand?”—she suddenly raised her head—”we always hate you and never have any pity for you!”

The half-clad Kolya suddenly dropped his dressing, sat down on the bed near Jennka and, covering his face with his palms, burst into tears; sincerely, altogether like a child…

“Lord, Lord,” he whispered, “why this is the truth! … What a vile thing this really is! … We, also, we had this happen: we had a chambermaid, Niusha…a chambermaid… they also called her signorita Anita…a pretty little girl…and my brother lived with her…my elder brother…an officer…and when he went away, she proved pregnant and mother drove her out…well, yes—drove her out…threw her out of the house, like a floor mop…Where is she now? And father…father…he also with a cham…chambermaid.”

And the half-naked Jennka, this Jennka, the atheist, swearer, and brawler, suddenly got up from the bed, stood before the cadet, and slowly, almost solemnly, made the sign of the cross over him.

“And may God preserve you my boy!” she said with an expression of deep tenderness and gratitude.

And at once she ran to the door, opened it and called out: “Housekeeper!”

“Tell you what, housekeeper dear,” Jennka directed, “go and find out, please, which one of them is free—Tamara or Little White Manka. And the one that’s free send here.”

Kolya growled out something in the back, but Jennka purposely did not listen to him.

“And please make it as quick as possible, housekeeper dear, won’t you be so kind?”

“Right away, right away, miss.”

“Why, why do you do this, Jennie?” asked Gladishev with anguish. “Well, what’s that for? …Is it possible that you want to tell about it? …”

“Wait awhile, that’s not your business…Wait a while, I won’t do anything unpleasant for you.”

After a minute Little White Manka came in her brown, smooth, deliberately modest dress of a high school girl.

“What did you call me for, Jennie? Or have you quarreled?”

“No, we haven’t quarreled, Mannechka, but my head aches very much,” answered Jennka calmly, “and for that reason my little friend finds me very cold. Be a friend, Mannechka, stay with him, take my place!”

“That’s enough, Jennie, stop it, darling!” in a tone of sincere suffering retorted Kolya. “I understand everything, everything, it’s not necessary now … Don’t be finishing me off, then! …”

“I don’t understand anything of what’s happened,” the frivolous Manka spread out her hands. “Maybe you’ll treat a poor little girl to something?”

“Well, go on, go on!” Jennka sent her away gently. “I’ll come right away. We just played a joke.”

Already dressed, they stood for long in the open door between the bedroom and the corridor; and without words sadly looked at each other. And Kolya did not understand, but sensed, that at this moment in his soul was taking place one of those tremendous crises which tell imperiously upon the entire life.

Then he pressed Jennie’s hand hard and said:

“Forgive! … Will you forgive me, Jennie? Will you forgive? …”

“Yes, my boy! … Yes, my fine one! … Yes…yes…”

She tenderly, softly, like a mother, stroked his closely cropped harsh head and gave him, a slight shove into the corridor.

“Where are you bound now?” she sent after him, half opening her door.

“I’ll take my comrade right away, and then home.”

“As you know best! … God bless you, dearie!”

“Forgive me! … Forgive me! …” once more repeated Kolya, stretching out his hands to her.

“I’ve already told you, my splendid boy…And you forgive me too…For we won’t see each other anymore!”

And she, having closed the door, was left alone.

In the corridor Gladishev hesitated, because he did not know how to find the room to which Petrov had retired with Tamara. But the housekeeper Zociya helped him, running past him very quickly, and with a very anxious, alarmed air.

“Oh, I haven’t time to bother with you now!” she snarled back at Gladishev’s question. “Third door to the left.”

Kolya walked up to the door indicated and knocked. Some sort of bustle and whispering sounded in the room. He knocked once more.

“Kerkovius, open! This is me—Soliterov.”

Among the cadets, setting out on expeditions of this sort, it was always agreed upon to call each other by fictitious names. It was not so much a conspiracy or a shift against the vigilance of those in authority, or fear of compromising one’s self before a chance acquaintance of the family, but rather a play, of its own kind, at mysteriousness and disguise—a play tracing its beginning from those times when the young people were borne away by Gustave Aimard, Mayne Reid, and the detective Lecocq.

“You can’t come in!” the voice of Tamara came from behind the door. “You can’t come in. We are busy.”

But the bass voice of Petrov immediately cut her short:

“Nonsense! She’s lying. Come in. It’s all right.”

Kolya opened the door.

Petrov was sitting on a chair dressed, but all red, morose, with lips pouting like a child’s, with downcast eyes.

“Well, what a friend you’ve brought—I must say!” Tamara began speaking sneeringly and wrathfully. “I thought he was a man in earnest, but this is only some sort of a little girl! He’s sorry to lose his innocence, if you please. What a treasure you’ve found, to be sure! But take back, take back your two roubles!” she suddenly began yelling at Petrov and tossed two coins on the table. “You’ll give them away to some poor chambermaid or other! Or else save them for gloves for yourself, you marmot!”

“But what are you cursing for?” grumbled Petrov, without raising his eyes. “I’m not cursing you, am I? Then why do you curse first? I have a full right to act as I want to. But I have passed some time with you, and so take them. But to be forced, I don’t want to. And on your part, Gladishev—that is, Soliterov—this isn’t at all nice. I thought she was a nice girl, but she’s trying to kiss all the time, and does God knows what…”

Tamara, despite her wrath, burst into laughter.

“Oh, you little stupid, little stupid! Well, don’t be angry—I’ll take your money. Only watch: this very evening you’ll be sorry, you’ll be crying. Well, don’t be angry, don’t be angry, angel, let’s make up. Put your hand out to me, as I’m doing to you.”

“Let’s go, Kerkovius,” said Gladishev. “Au revoir, Tamara!”

Tamara let the money down into her stocking, through the habit of all prostitutes, and went to show the boys the way.

Even at the time that they were passing through the corridor Gladishev was struck by the strange, silent, tense bustle in the drawing room; the trampling of feet and some muffled, low-voiced, rapid conversations.

Near that place where they had just been sitting below the picture, all the inmates of Anna Markovna’s house and several outsiders had gathered. They were standing in a close knot, bending down. Kolya walked up with curiosity, and, wedging his way through a little, looked in between the heads: on the floor, sideways, somehow unnaturally drawn up, was lying Roly-Poly. His face was blue, almost black. He did not move, and was lying strangely small, shrunken, with legs bent. One arm was squeezed in under his breast, while the other was flung back.

“What’s the matter with him?” asked Gladishev in a fright.

Niurka answered him, starting to speak in a rapid, jerky whisper:

“Roly-Poly just came here…Gave Manka the candy, and then started in to put Armenian riddles to us…’Of a blue colour, hangs in the parlor and whistles’…We couldn’t guess nohow, but he says: ‘A herring’…Suddenly he started laughing, had a coughing spell, and began falling sideways; and then—bang on the ground and don’t move…They sent for the police…Lord, there’s doings for you! … I’m horribly afraid of corpseses!”

“Wait!” Gladishev stopped her. “It’s necessary to feel his forehead; he may be alive yet…”

He did try to thrust himself forward, but Simeon’s fingers, just like iron pincers, seized him above the elbows and dragged him back.

“There’s nothing, there’s nothing to be inspecting,” sternly ordered Simeon, “go on, now, young gents, out of here! This is no place for you: the police will come, will summon you as witnesses—then it’s scat! to the devil’s dam! for you out of the military high school! Better go while you’re good and healthy!”

He escorted them to the entrance hall, shoved the great-coats into their hands and added still more sternly:

“Well, now—go at a run…Lively! So’s there won’t be even a whiff of you left. And if you come another time, then I won’t let youse in at all. You are wise guys, you are! You gave the old hound money for whiskey—so now he’s gone and croaked.”

“Well, don’t you get too smart, now!” Gladishev flew at him, all ruffled up.

“What d’you mean, don’t get smart? …” Simeon suddenly began to yell infuriatedly, and his black eyes without lashes and brows became so terrible that the cadets shrank back. “I’ll soak you one on the snout so hard you’ll forget how to say papa and mamma! Git, this second! Or else I’ll bust you in the neck!”

The boys went down the steps.

At this time two men were going up, in cloth caps on the sides of their heads; one in a blue, the other in a red blouse, with the skirts outside, under the unbuttoned, wide open jackets—evidently, Simeon’s comrades in the profession.

“What?” one of them called out gaily from below, addressing Simeon, “Is it bye-bye for Roly-Poly?”

“Yes, it must be the finish,” answered Simeon. “We’ve got to throw him out into the street in the meantime, fellows, or else the spirits will start haunting. The devil with him, let ’em think that he drank himself full and croaked on the road.”

“But you didn’t … well, now? … You didn’t do for him?”

“Well, now, there’s foolish talk! If there’d only been some reason. He was a harmless fellow. Altogether like a little lamb. It must be just that his turn came.”

“And didn’t he find a place where to die! Couldn’t he have thought up something worse?” said the one who was in the red shirt.

“Right you are, there!” seconded the other. “Lived to grin and died in sin. Well, let’s go, mate, what?”

The cadets ran with all their might. Now, in the darkness, the figure of Roly-Poly drawn up on the floor, with his blue face, appeared before them in all the horror that the dead possess for early youth; and especially if recalled at night, in the dark.

< < < Chapter II
Chapter IV > > >

Russian LiteratureChildren BooksRussian PoetryAlexander Kuprin – Yama (the Pit) – Contents

Copyright holders –  Public Domain Book

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